Tick Tock, Flip Flop, Whiz, Bang, Whirrrr

Building Chain Reaction Machines for the 4-H STEaMpunk Challenge
People building a chain reaction machine

There’s a scene I remember from watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as a kid, where inventor Caractacus Potts makes breakfast for his kids with an overly complex machine that includes plates on train tracks and all sorts of levers and wheels that puts the food on the plate, cooks it and send it down the tracks onto the kitchen table to be devoured by professor Potts and his children.  I’ve always had a fascination with whacky inventions like that breakfast machine and those illustrated by the cartoonist Rube Goldberg.  So when the idea for a new 4-H Maker Challenge started percolating in my brain, visions of those crazy inventions became the inspiration for the 4-H STEaMpunk Invention Challenge.

The STEaMpunk Invention Challenge is a celebration of STEaM (Science, Technology, Engineering, arts and Math) and human creativity, where groups of youth design and create a crazy invention to complete a simple task. STEaMpunk describes a fictional Victorian Era where modern electrical/digital technology does not exist, so society is left to create complex mechanical steam powered inventions to complete many tasks done by today’s technology. The STEaMpunk Invention Challenge encourages creativity, design thinking, art and engineering by challenging youth to come up with complex inventions to complete a simple task. These fun inventions link together simple machines and quirky uses of common items in a chain reaction to complete a simple task. Imagine lots of levers, pulleys, rolling balls, falling dominos, etc. This is not a competitive event, but there will be prizes and incentives for teams to set and achieve challenging goals.  The theme of this challenge and the final step is to make a pig fly.  STEaMpunk Inventions will be showcased at the 4-H Makers Expo on April 13 in Meredith, NH.

Getting started is not as difficult as it seems.  It’s really just an exploration of the junk piles, craft boxes, kitchen drawers and other hidden knick-knacks around the house and finding items that can drop, roll, spin, snap or swing to transfer energy from one item to the next in a chain reaction.  As you tinker with your kids you’ll be exploring the concepts of simple machines and energy transfer.  You can explore our STEaMpunk Invention Challenge videos by following the links at the bottom of the page or search other great chain reaction videos on YouTube.  Some of my favorites include the YouTube Channel Joseph’s Machines and the Lemonade Machine.

For more information check out the STEaMpunk Invention Challenge webpage


STEaMpunk Invention Challenge Intro


STEaMpunk Invention Challenge Tip of the Day 1



STEaMpunk Invention Challenge Tip of the Day 2

Learn More About 4-H Makers Expo